Back at the motel, Max took to collapsing on the bed, while May placed her sample of the dog’s saliva in the mini fridge.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” she said to her brother as she went to sit on her bed. “We’re heading out again soon.”
Max emerged from the fort of pillows he’d built around his head. “What for?”
“First, to get lunch. I’m breaking my fast–”
“Next, to check out the park Lackley said the dog frequents.”
“May what the hell are we going to find there?”
“We’ll ask around. Who knows? Maybe we’ll run into the dog again.”
Max groaned and dropped his head back down. “I hope not!”
“Then after all that, I wanted to head to the YMCA and talk to Dennis Grant.”
“Guy who used to work as an animal officer.” May picked up the room phone and pressed it to her ear. She quickly punched in some numbers. “So like I said, don’t get comfortable.”
“I still don’t know why you can’t just leave me here.”
May arched an eyebrow at him. “You know why.”
Max’s fists clenched on the sheets.
May crossed her legs as she heard the phone ring. For a moment it seemed that no one would pick up, but then just as she was about to hang up, someone answered.
“Veritas Forensic Laboratories, this is Leonard?” The voice was male and scratchy, like the speaker had a sore throat.
“Hi, Leo. It’s me.”
There was a long beat of silence.
The freelancer had met Leonard back when she had first started her strange career. She had needed a DNA comparison between a man’s blood and a dead bird. Despite having the funds from her employer to hire Veritas Forensic Laboratories, they refused on the basis that she was, in their words, crazy. “Why would anyone want to compare human and animal DNA?” they asked.
She didn’t bother explaining to them that she suspected the man the blood sample came from of being in some way a descendant of a Garuda, which was a predatory avian-being from Buddhist mythology.
Apparently, news got around in their offices about the bizarre request which caught Leonard’s attention. Leonard was a black sheep himself among his peers, believing in such things as alien reptiles, Big Foot, and CIA secret wars (among other things.) He contacted May privately and conducted her test for her in secret. As it turned out, there was no connection between May’s suspect and her dead bird, but Leonard still maintained an interest in being of help to the freelancer. She found his open-mindedness invaluable, if a little odd.
After all, even she didn’t believe in Big Foot.
“…May,” Leonard said with a definite note of chill. “My, my. You actually called.”
May winced and rubbed her neck. “So I know I should’ve called sooner–”
“Try a month sooner.”
“I’m sorry, Leo.”
Leonard sighed hard over the receiver. “Did your last case go well?”
“Oh. Yeah. It, uh, went well. We convinced the tribe to leave, thanks to your results.”
“Hmph.” She could practically see Leonard give a strong flick of his thick pompadour haircut. For a man approaching his forties and a family history of hair loss, the lab technician had a very healthy head of dark hair, and he was very proud of it. She never said this to him, but she suspected the use of hair plugs.
May took off her glasses and massaged the bridge of her nose. “Did I mention I was sorry?”
She groaned. “Leo, come on. I got caught up in things!”
Leonard’s voice took on a weary note, and May could hear glass clinking over the line. “You’re always caught up in something. Like how a redheaded woman fell out of the sky and into your greenhouse last summer?”
May’s face pulled into an incredulous scowl. “Out of all of my stories, why is that one the must unbelievable to you?”
“I can understand if people seek you out for troubles, but when trouble just falls out of the sky…?”
“Nice. Skepticism coming from the man who believes carrying around an acorn will keep him young forever!”
“Jealousy will get you nowhere.”
“Look, we’re getting off topic.”
“And pray, what were we talking about?”
May cleared her throat. “I, ah, have another…favor to ask you.”
“Of course you do.”
“I know, I know, I don’t deserve to ask you this! Honestly, if I could, I wouldn’t bother you, but this is something I need your help with, Leo!”
“May, our lab is busy, I don’t know if I can pull off–”
“There’s a dog, and I think something’s wrong with him. He acts funny. Can’t I just send you a sample?”
There was another beat of silence.
“…A dog?” Leonard’s voice seemed to snap in half at the word, his rasp turning into a brittle crack.
“I don’t know how I can help you! We aren’t a veterinary clinic!”
“Don’t give me that! Your lab’s worked with animal samples before!”
“On the rare occasion, yes. But we only use it to identify an animal, not to understand its genetic makeup! I’m guessing that’s what you really want, right?”
May leaned forward onto her legs with a short exhale. She could feel the starting of frustration tightening up her back and shoulders. “Yeah. Isn’t there something your lab can–”
“No,” Leonard said shortly. “We’re a private crime lab, not a medical one! DNA profiling and genetic sequencing are two different things!”
The freelancer closed her eyes. “All right… Thanks, anyway–”
May sat up, her eyes widening. “…Yes?”
Leonard’s scratchy voice dropped an octave as he murmured softly into the phone. Voices could be heard in the background that weren’t there before. “I might know somebody who owes me a favor at UC Felmore’s Veterinary Genetics Lab. If you overnight whatever sample you have to me, I could take it to them and have them do a full genome sequence on this dog you’re so interested in. They’ve even got a new sequencer that can get you results in a few hours!”
May smiled so hard it hurt. “That’d be great, Leo! I’ll send the sample off before tonight!”
“Now the real question is, what the heck kind of case are you working on that you need the genetic information of a dog?”
May explained the encounter she and Max had with the stray dog at Watcher Avenue.
Leonard let out a long, “Mmm,” and the freelancer swore she could hear his fingers scratching his beard over the phone.
“So basically, you want to know if this dog’s been…altered in some way?” he asked.
“Hmm…it’d be better if you had a blood sample. Then you could test to see if it’s been injected with a drug or something. But I’ll see if my friend can help, all right?”
“And call me back this time. I don’t do this stuff for you just to have you forget about me afterward!”
May stood with a quick nod. “Sure thing. Expect my package by tomorrow morning, even if I have to drive it over myself! Thanks again.” She hung up and dug out her keys from her pocket. “Get up Max. I need to find a courier service before we head off to lunch!”
She got a soft snore in response and rolled her eyes toward the ceiling.
They returned to the diner from earlier that day. Max was still yawning even when their food arrived at their table. May tried not to let it annoy her.
A double cheeseburger with onion rings for him. A chicken salad for her.
When the waitress set May’s food down and walked away, Max shook his head. May’s patience snapped.
“What are you shaking your head at?” she bit out as she placed her paper napkin in her lap and picked up her fork.
Max just crossed his arms and sat back in his chair, his face deadly serious as though he were trying very hard to solve a life or death puzzle.
Finally, he asked, “May, you haven’t got some weight issue thing, right?”
May stopped chewing the salad she had just put in her mouth. Staring across at her brother, she tried to discern if he was serious or just messing with her. When her withering stare didn’t make him withdraw his question, she realized with appall that it was the former.
With effort, the freelancer swallowed her food.
At her delayed response, Max plucked up a large onion ring and ripped off half of it. “Hey, as always, I’m not trying to offend. But when you said you were going to stop fasting I thought you’d get something heavier than a salad.”
May thought about that. Then shrugged her mouth. “A fair point.” She glared at him. “That still doesn’t excuse your rudeness.”
“It’s rude to ask if my sister is trying to lose weight?”
“It’s rude to assume that, yes. I fast to cleanse, not to lose weight. Also, I happen to like vegetables more than I do meat.”
“Is my misunderstanding so far fetched, though?”
May speared at her salad more aggressively than necessary. “It isn’t far fetched so much as just sad. Why does a person wanting to eat healthy automatically mean they’re doing it to fit an ideal body image?”
Max held up his hands. “I’m sorry I insulted you but I had good intentions! I was just concerned! I mean you’re skinny enough already!”
At this, May angrily thrust her fork at her brother, making him flinch. “Shut your mouth! I don’t need your fucking acceptance Max! If I was 200 pounds, I still wouldn’t need, nor want, your acceptance! Nothing in what I was doing warranted your judgement or concern, and if you do it again I’m leaving you here! Deal’s off! And that goes for everything, Max. My life is off limits!”
Max snorted. “So it’s okay for you to judge me and treat me like shit, but I can’t say anything to you? I’m your older brother!”
“You’re a stranger asking for handouts,” May snarled back before taking a furious bite of her salad.
Her brother’s face became a bright pink, and with a slam of his hands on the table, he slid out of their booth.
“Fuck this,” he muttered.
“Where are you going?” May snapped.
“Away. I can’t take your hypocrisy anymore…”
And with hands in his pockets, Max stormed out of the diner. May watched him go but did not rise. After five minutes of silent fuming, she resumed eating her salad. Her eyes flickered to the burger across the table, but in the time it took her to finish her food, her brother did not return. After paying and slipping his food into a to-go box, May expected Max to be at or near her car, waiting.
When she emerged from the diner, it was to find instead that her brother was gone.